It looks likely to be Lars von Trier's most shocking film in a directorial career that has taken the concept of epic controversy to a whole new level. So, after signing up for the arch-provocateur of European cinema's latest production, the reputedly pornographic Nymphomaniac, Charlotte Gainsbourg can hardly be accused of not knowing what she is letting herself in for.
Gainsbourg will play the lead, a woman named Joe (rather than Jo, according to the Hollywood Reporter) who reveals her sexual history to an older bachelor played by Stellan Skarsgård. She also appeared in Von Trier's two most recent films: the graphic, bamboozling horror movie Antichrist, and the mesmeric science fiction drama Melancholia. In the first, the scene in which her character severs her own clitoris while masturbating is just one appalling morsel from a densely packed smorgasbord of extreme nastiness; the second was linked to a row at Cannes after Von Trier appeared to express empathy with Hitler while promoting it at a press conference.
The film-maker, who subsequently apologised but was banned from the Croisette, is promising to release Nymphomaniac in hardcore and soft versions. The former is expected to eschew the age-old Hollywood "did they or didn't they" approach in favour of graphic depictions of penetration. Von Trier has filmed such scenes before, in his 1998 film The Idiots, but later revealed stand-in actors had been used. There is no word as to whether stand-ins may be employed for Nymphomaniac.
Von Trier plans to shoot in the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia, where he filmed Antichrist, this summer.
Gainsbourg, the daughter of famously saucy French singer Serge and his "Je T'aime" paramour Jane Birkin, is no stranger to controversy herself. She released a single with her father at the age of 15 entitled Lemon Incest, the lyrics for which were criticised for glamorising paedophilia.
Fittingly (or perhaps not) Von Trier's business partner and producer, Peter Aalbæk Jensen, told the Guardian in August that Nymphomaniac would examine the taboo subject of child sexuality as part of its depiction of one woman's sexual history from infancy to middle age.
"Lars wants to see the sexual arousement of a girl [on screen]," he said. "Of course you have some legal problems that you have to work around. Right now he's in the writing process."
Aalbæk Jensen said the two versions were necessary for distribution purposes. "If Lars wants to make explicit sex scenes in the film, he also has to make a version that can be shown on TV in Europe," said the producer. "He has accepted that."
It is understood the softcore version will be aimed at more mainstream cinemas, while those who yearn for the full, uncut Von Trier experience will be directed towards the hardcore version.
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